Oil refinery builds major wind plant -- BP and Chevron Texaco stride into wind power development

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Oil giants BP and ChevronTexaco are set to make their market debut with the construction this year of a 22.5 MW, nine turbine wind power station within the precincts of their jointly-owned Nerefco oil refinery near the huge port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The $23 million project, will be a first for both companies, neither of whom have experience in commercial scale wind projects. Equipped with nine 2.5 MW turbines from German-Danish wind company Nordex, the wind plant will be second largest in the Netherlands -- and use some of the largest wind power generating technology yet available.

"We believe that a company like BP should always use cutting-edge technology, as long as it's proven," says Eric Bakker, wind energy director at BP's Renewables and Alternative Energy unit. "We've every confidence in the Nordex machines and the whole project has been designed with safety in mind." BP is paying 69% of the cost of the project and Chevron Texaco 31%, corresponding to the respective stakes that each company holds in the refinery.

Nordex will be providing a turnkey development -- from initial project planning to turning the start key -- but the installation will be closely supervised by BP safety specialists. "The Nerefco refinery was built before space became so costly and can easily accommodate this number of machines in the storage tank area. No machine will be nearer than 100 metres to any tank," says Bakker.

If delivered on schedule the plant will also break the Dutch plan-to-grid speed record. First proposed in May 2001, Bakker hopes that construction will begin in May with completion in the autumn. "Of course I'm not taking the permit process for granted," he says, but adds that the companies have been working closely with the port authority. The project will also benefit from being located in one of the Netherlands' most industrialised areas and having direct access to all necessary infrastructure.

The in-house expertise built up by the six-strong team during the course of the project will likely find further use. "At BP we have no plans to get into green field wind project development, but we are actively looking to exploit niche opportunities on BP sites across the company," says Bakker. "It's too early to say what that will add up to in terms of megawatts."

The idea for the project originated locally but was given backing from BP and ChevronTexaco senior management. Bob Dudley, BP's group vice president of Gas and Power and Renewables, commends it as "an excellent opportunity in line with BP's strategy to add value to our business, lower emissions and demonstrate our commitment to clean energy."

James Houck, ChevronTexaco president, power and gasification, echoes these sentiments: "Wind power is an increasingly viable source of power generation and this project fits with our objectives to manage carbon emissions and invest in new technologies that minimise environmental impact."

Bakker emphasises the project's contribution to increased shareholder value and says the various options of combining power and green certificate sales and carbon credits -- which will determine the profitability of the wind station -- are still being examined. With its shoreline location and exposure to what Xavier Bontemps, Nerefco refinery manager, describes as "strong and consistent winds" it is expected that the plant's output could cover a substantial part of the refinery's own power consumption, with the associated green certificates beings sold on the Dutch green credit market for extra income. "But credit risk is also a factor," adds Bakker.

BP and ChevronTexaco are following in the footsteps of another major oil company, Shell, which brought a 50 MW wind farm on-line in Wyoming, United States, last year.

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